Skip subnavigation and go to article content

Established in 2015, the HEARTs Research Group is an interdisciplinary multi-institution community of race and health scholars–undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty– interrogating relationships between race, racism and health. We use a social-psycho-biological framework to interrogate the intersection of socio-environmental risk, and the biological embedding of social experience.

The HEARTs Research Group promotes research and scholarship related to understanding why some groups, particularly socially minoritized racial and ethnic groups, live sicker and die sooner than others. We are a collaborative training ground for those interested in applying social theory to a variety of research methods intended to examine the connections between social inequalities and health inequities. HEARTs is guided by several underlying themes: the conceptualization and measurement of racism as a social determinant of health; the embodiment of social stress with a focus on weathering and race-related stress, biological dysregulation and premature biological aging; and the understanding of how race, gender, age and socioeconomic position intersect to impact health inequities.

HEARTs activities include journal club, research collaborations, WIP (work-in-progress) sessions, development of abstracts and conference presentations, and other professional development activities.

Culture of HEARTs

  • Community building
  • Peer mentorship
  • Accountability 
  • Celebrate successes – big and small
  • Compassionate excellence
  • Encourage rigor
  • Conceptual and methodological depth
  • Researcher does not = Scholar
  • Have fun 
  • Be HUMAN and authentic
  • Cultivating strong HEARTs and minds!

HEARTs Team Members

Principal Investigator

Dr. Amani Allen, PhD

Faculty Headshot for Amani AllenAmani M. Allen is Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences and Epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. Her broad research interest is to integrate concepts, theories and methods from epidemiology and the social and biomedical sciences to examine racial inequalities in health as they exist across populations, across place and over the life-course. Dr. Allen considers herself to be more “exposure” than “outcomes” focused, which is consistent with her interests in examining social factors such as “race” and “socioeconomic position” as exposures that serve as the foundation for the creation and preservation of health disparities across a number of outcomes. She is interested in how these social exposures determine life experiences and opportunities differently for different social groups and how those differences become embodied and impact mental and physical health and well being. Dr. Allen’s work employs a mix of quantitative and qualitative data for understanding racial health disparities, informing the measurement of social determinants and addressing concerns related to internal validity challenges in health disparities research. Dr. Allen has published in top scientific journals including the American Journal of Public Health, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Annals of Epidemiology, Psychoneuroendocrinology–where her paper examining racial discrimination, educational attainment and biological dysregulation among African American women was named Editor’s Choice (2019), and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences where her recent paper examining racial discrimination, superwoman schema, and allostatic load among African-American women was highlighted as the cover feature. Dr. Allen and her work have been featured on NPR, CBSNews, BlackPress USA, the Urban League, Essence Magazine, US News & World Report, The Guardian, SF Chronicle, The Atlantic, WebMD, CNN, and MSNBC, among others.

Student Members

Elleni Hailu, MPH

Student Researcher

Elleni Hailu is a second year PhD student in Epidemiology. Her interests are in addressing the biopsychosocial mechanisms by which indicators of structural racism are embodied across the lifecourse to influence racial disparities in adverse cardiovascular and maternal health outcomes. She aims to employ interdisciplinary theories along with novel data analytic methods to conduct research that informs policies. Her current work examines multi-level stressors and their influence on adverse health outcomes in multi-center and intergenerational cohorts. Elleni earned her MPH in Epidemiology/Biostatistics from UC Berkeley and her BS in Public Health Sciences from Santa Clara University. Elleni enjoys spending quality time with family and friends, hiking, and visiting parks/lakes/beaches.

Tracy Lam-Hine, MBA

Student Researcher

Tracy Lam-Hine is a third-year DrPH student with a focus on social epidemiologic methods, critical mixed-race studies (CMRS), and racial health disparities. He is interested in conceptualizing multiracial peoples’ unique experiences with institutional and personally-mediated racism, measuring the health impacts of those experiences, and examining racialization in epidemiology from a CMRS perspective. Tracy currently works as a community epidemiologist at the Marin County health department, and has a BS in Economics and Public Policy from UC Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Washington. In his free time, Tracy enjoys travel to warm places, surfing, cooking, growing cacti, and taking his dog Mochi to the beach.

Kevin Lee, MPH

Student Researcher

Kevin Lee is a third-year DrPH student whose research interest focuses on conceptualizing and operationalizing structural discrimination through the examination of social policies. He is especially interested in exploring the racial health inequities arising from immigration and labor policies, and their impact on low-wage immigrant workers. Most recently, he has conducted research on immigrant and refugee workforce development, as well as the effects of COVID-19 on health coverage among low-wage workers. Kevin received both his BA in Ethnic Studies and Psychology, and MPH in Health & Social Behavior from UC Berkeley. In his spare time, he enjoys backpacking, traveling, food, and exploring cities, both big and small.

Eli Michaels, MPH

Student Researcher

Eli Michaels is a 4th-year PhD student in Epidemiology. She is passionate about integrating theory from across the social sciences with epidemiologic methods to measure racism at different social levels and estimate its effects on racial health inequities in the United States. She is particularly interested in using big data to measure area-level racial prejudice and examining biopsychosocial pathways to health. Prior to starting her PhD, she completed her BA in Sociology and Feminist & Gender Studies at Colorado College and her MPH in Health & Social Behavior at UC Berkeley. When she’s not debugging R code, Eli enjoys rock climbing, running, and cooking.

Jazoria Morris, BS

Student Researcher

I am Jazoria T. Morris, a 22 year old native of Greenville, Mississippi. I am a fourth generation graduate of the great Mississippi Valley State University where I received my Bachelor of Science on May 9, 2020. I am currently a 1st year graduate student in MVSU’s Environmental Health program. As a current scholar in the Daniel Hale Williams Scholar Program, I am developing a manuscript on Psychosocial Stress and Socioeconomic Status in Early Menarche. My plans are to continue to study the environment and how it can directly affect the reproductive health of women. I strive to become a midwife, specializing in decreasing morbidity and mortality rates of African American pregnant women.

Alexis Reeves, MPH

Student Researcher

Alexis Reeves MPH, is a 4th year doctoral student in Epidemiologic Science at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Alexis’ broad research interests are in understanding how structural and interpersonal psychosocial stress interact to contribute to accelerated aging among racial minorities. She focuses on segregation, racial discrimination, socioeconomic stress and their effects on racial differences in early reproductive and cardio-metabolic aging. She also has expertise in utilizing causal inference and bias analysis methods to improve aging research which often is systematically biased – particularly affecting racial minorities. Alexis received her BS in Biological Sciences from UC Irvine and an MPH in Epidemiology/Biostatistics from UC Berkeley. Alexis also enjoys traveling, hiking, eating new things, cooking/baking new recipes from around the world and whipping up craft cocktails.

Saba Sohail, MS

Former Student Researcher

Saba Sohail, is currently a research associate at IgGenix, a biotech startup, at Johnson and Johnson labs incubator in South San Francisco. She is currently working on immunotherapies for food allergies. Her academic research interests are biological markers of stress, health disparities specifically related to social determinants of health. She completed her master’s in cell and molecular biology. Her thesis project- Examining the relationship between experiences of discrimination and telomere length in African American women- was a collaboration between the Health Equity Research Lab at SFSU and the HEARTs research group. She received her BS in Cell and Molecular Biology from San Francisco State University. Saba enjoys volunteering in local community organizations, cooking for friends and family, dancing, and spending time at the beach.

Postdoctoral Members

Rachel L. Berkowitz, DrPH, MPH

Postdoctoral Researcher

Rachel L. Berkowitz, DrPH, MPH, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Health Equity & Implementation Science with UC Berkeley and the Sutter Health Center for Health Systems Research. Her work focuses on understanding and addressing how systems, structures, and places create and perpetuate health inequities. She has experience in the use of qualitative, quantitative, and participatory methods to conduct applied and community-based research. Her current projects involve assessing the ways in which neighborhood contexts influence and drive racial inequities in health outcomes (with a particular focus on birth outcomes and maternal outcomes) and understanding health system changes affect patients, providers, and staff. She received her BA in Cultural Anthropology from Northwestern University, her MPH in Global Health from Emory University, and her DrPH from UC Berkeley. In her free time, she enjoys cooking/baking, painting, trying to keep plants alive, and playing with her cat.

Suzanne M. Dufault, PhD, MA

Postdoctoral Researcher

Suzanne M. Dufault, PhD, MA, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biostatistics at UC Berkeley. Her research is focused on the generation of statistical methods to assist in the rigorous development and evaluation of innovative solutions to public health problems and inequities. Her expertise primarily concerns statistical methods for evaluating the prevention of vector-borne infectious diseases, typically through cluster randomized trials. As a biostatistician, she has had the unique pleasure of working with researchers across the many diverse areas of public health, including projects on “deaths of despair” in General Motors Autoworkers in Michigan, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and breast cancer in the UK Biobank cohort, and the development and validation of a measure of anticipatory racist threat in a nationally representative sample of African American women. When not working, she can be found enjoying the company of her friends at a happy hour or hike, swimming, or watching comedy.

Marilyn Thomas, PhD, MPH

Postdoctoral Researcher

Marilyn D. Thomas, MPH, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Departments of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Psychiatry at UCSF. Her primary interest is to understand how social policies, practices, and norms contribute to racial and socioeconomic health disparities. She has an expertise in integrating social theory, measuring the exposure to racism, and estimating the intersections of race, socioeconomic position, and socio-environmental factors using statistical interaction and case-only study designs. Her research investigates the role that structural, institutional, and everyday social marginalization plays on disparities in accelerated aging, physiologic dysregulation, and police use of fatal force, and whether and to what extent socioeconomic and demographic factors may modify these effects. To practice self-care, she likes to hike, dine out, see live music/comedy/theater, travel, and play guitar.

Faculty Affiliates

David Chae, ScD, MA

Faculty Collaborator

David Chae, Sc.D., M.A., is Associate Professor in the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, Director of the Society, Health, and Racial Equity (SHARE) Lab, and Associate Dean for Research at Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. His research focuses on the social determinants of health inequities and embodiment of racism. He studies racism as a social-environmental toxin that shapes the inequitable population-level distribution of disease. As part of this work, he investigates the interplay between social context, developmental period, behavior, and biology, and links to disease susceptibility and progression. In 2019 he was elected to the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the honorary senior scientist society for those whose research is at the interface of behavior and medicine. He is Associate Editor of the journal Health Education & Behavior, on the Editorial Board of Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, and serves on several scientific research groups dedicated to the study of racism.

Leticia Márquez-Magaña, PhD

Faculty Collaborator

Leticia Márquez-Magaña, PhD is Professor of Biology and the Director of the Health Equity Research (HER) Laboratory at San Francisco State University. She is the first-born daughter of Mexican immigrants and began her education in the U.S. only speaking Spanish. Professor Márquez-Magaña attended Stanford University as the first member of her extended U.S. family to complete high school. She earned a co-terminal BS/MS degree in Biological Sciences at this university, and went on to earn a PhD in Biochemistry at UC Berkeley before returning to Stanford to complete post-doctoral training in molecular pharmacology. She joined the faculty at SF State in 1994 targeting her professional efforts to “give back.” For example, some of these efforts are focused on guiding attainment of the overall mission of the HER lab to “Link Basic Science to Community Health”; Towards this end, projects in the lab are aimed at developing or using biomedical tools to study how social injustice gets under the skin to cause or worsen disease. This information can then contribute to advocacy efforts to change policies and practices for health equity.

Thu Nguyen, ScD, MSPH

Faculty Collaborator

Thu Nguyen, ScD, MSPH is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She is an epidemiologist whose research focuses on the impact of modifiable social factors on minority health and health disparities. Dr. Nguyen uses a variety of different data sources (including Big Data) and approaches (including quantitative and qualitative research methods) to advance our understanding of social determinants of health. She is the principal investigator of a National Institutes of Health Pathway to Independence Award to create a novel state and county-level indicator of racial attitudes and bias using Twitter data and to examine its associations with birth outcomes and racial/ethnic disparities in birth outcomes.

Research Interests:

  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Race and socioeconomic health disparities
  • Discrimination and racism and its impact on health

Affiliated Groups

Ongoing Projects

  • African American Women’s Heart & Health Study (AAWHHS), an observational cross-sectional study to examine associations between social-environmental stressors, physiologic stress and cardiometabolic risk among a community sample of midlife African American women residing in the San Francisco Bay area (n=200). Data include various measures of social and environmental stressors, a variety of biomarkers, a host of self-reported mental and physical health outcomes, and a rich collection of sociodemographics.
  • National Validation Study on Measures of Anticipatory Racism Stress, a nationally representative survey of African American women ages 25-64 in the U.S. Study includes measures of stress, coping, health behaviors and a variety of mental and physical health outcomes (self-reported mental and physical health, sleep quality, chronic disease, depression) (n=710).
  • UNCOVER Study – COVID19, a multi-city observational study examining how COVID-19 has impacted people’s everyday lives such as employment, income, housing, stress, health (n=3200).
  • UNCOVER Study – BLM, a multi-city observational study examining associations between the Black Lives Matter movement and contextual level racial sentiment.
  • Measures of Racism and Social Status (MORSS), a qualitative study exploring perceptions and experiences of racism among African American and European American women of reproductive age. Ongoing work is focused the measurement of racism and implications for validity in epidemiologic studies.
  • Jackson Heart Study (JHS), the largest single-site, community-based epidemiologic investigation of environmental and genetic factors associated with cardiovascular disease among African Americans ever undertaken. The JHS is a community-based cohort study evaluating the etiology of cardiovascular, renal, and respiratory diseases among African Americans residing in the three counties (Hinds, Madison, and Rankin) that make up the Jackson, Mississippi metropolitan area. Data and biologic materials have been collected from 5306 Blacks and whites ages 35-84 at baseline (2000-2004) with two follow up examinations and another wave currently underway. Ongoing work examines psychosocial stress, early menarche and cardiometabolic risk.
  • Collective Racial Bias and Cardiovascular Risk Among Black and White US Adults, a NIH-NHLBI funded dissertation (PI: E Michaels) applying various big data approaches to measure county-level racial bias and exploring associations with self-reported racial discrimination and cardiovascular risk progression through midlife among Black and White adults in the United States.
  • Conceptualization and measurement of the physiologic and metal health impacts of monoracism on young multiracial adults: a study using causal inference methods to estimate the average treatment effect of experiencing monoracial identity assumption – a form of monoracial microaggression – on measures of allostatic load, anxiety, and depressive symptomatology through early adulthood.
  • Estimation of the undercounts of multiracial mortality in the US: a study to quantify the presence of structural monoracism using vital records. Counts of multiracial deaths as determined by race coded on death certificates will be compared to a life table-based model of expected counts of multiracial deaths. Variation in the proportion of misclassified multiracial decedents will give a quantitative assessment of the presence of structural monoracism.

Published Work

In the News


Invited Talks

  • Amani Allen –
    The Consequences of Systemic Racism in Science and Steps Toward a Better Future
    Oral Presentation, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Forum, October, 2020. The Forum is organized with the AAAS Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy.

Conference Presentations

  • “Area-Level Racial Prejudice and Health: A Systematic Review”. Poster Presentation, International Association for Population Health Science. Virtual Conference, September 2020.  [Michaels, E*, Board, C, Mujahid, M, Riddell, C, Johnson, R, Allen, A.
  • “Area-Level Racial Prejudice and Health: A Systematic Review”. Oral Presentation, American Public Health Association. Virtual Conference, October 2020.  [Michaels, E*, Board, C, Mujahid, M, Riddell, C, Johnson, R, Allen, A.
  • “Investigating associations between self-reported racial discrimination and biological aging in African American women in the Bay Area.” Oral Thesis Defense, San Francisco State University — May 2019. [Sohail S*]
  • “Differential Associations between Racial Discrimination, Self-reported Health and Allostatic Load among Black Women: Implications for Clinical Assessment and Epidemiologic Studies.” Oral Presentation, Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting—March 2019. [Thomas M*, Michaels, E, Reeves A, Okuye, U, Price M, Hasson RE, Chae DH, Allen A].
  • “Association between Experiences of Discrimination and Telomere Length in African American women in the Bay Area”. Oral Presentation, California State University Research Competition- February 2019. [Sohail S*, Mendez R, Marquez-Magana L]
  • “Everyday racial discrimination and hypertension among midlife African American women: Do coping dispositions and behaviors modify?” Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association. Atlanta, GA. November 2017. [Michaels E*, Reeves A, Thomas M, Price M, Hasson RE, Chae DH, Allen A].
  • “Coding the Everyday Discrimination Scale: Implications for chronicity assessment and associations with hypertension and depressive symptomatology among a cross-section of midlife African American women”. Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association. Atlanta, GA. November 2017. [Michaels E*, Thomas M, Reeves A, Price M, Hasson RE, Chae DH, Allen A].
  • “Association between Experiences of Discrimination and Telomere Length in African American women in the Bay Area”. Oral Presentation, Society for Advancement of Chicano and Native Americans (SACAS) — October 2017. [Sohail S*, Mendez R, Velasquez E, Marquez-Magana]
  • “Examining the independent effects of racial discrimination and general stress on systolic blood pressure: Data from the African American Women’s Heart Health Study”. Annual Meeting of the Society of Epidemiologic Research. Seattle, WA. June 2017. [Reeves AN*, Michaels E, Thomas M, Chae DH, Allen A].
  • “Benefits of Collecting Biospecimens: How to recruit and retain diverse participants.” Oral Presentation, UCSF Center for AIDS prevention- June 2017. [Sohail S*, Marquez-Magana L]
  • “The association between racial discrimination and early physiologic dysregulation amongst African American women: The African American Women’s Heart Health Study”. Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America. Chicago, IL. April 2017. [Allen AM, Thomas MT, Michaels EK, Reeves AN, Okoye U, Price MM, Hasson RE, Syme SL, Chae DH]
  • “Differential impacts of routine vs. non-routine experiences of racial discrimination on allostatic load among African American women”. Annual Meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. San Diego, CA. March 2017. [Thomas M, Michaels E*, Reeves AN, Okoye U, Price MM, Hasson RE, Chae DH, Allen A.]
  • “Racial Discrimination and Allostatic Load Among Midlife African American Women”. Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association. Denver, Colorado. November 2016.  [Allen A, Thomas M*, Michaels, E, Reeves A, Okuye, U, Price M, Hasson RE, Chae DH].
  • “Racism as a social determinant of health: Measurement error and internal validity in epidemiologic studies”. Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association. Denver, Colorado. November 2016. [Allen, A].

Photo Gallery